Me, Lil Wayne, and Spring Break 2009 on Panama City Beach

Spring Break 2009 delivered Lil Wayne to our crystal white sand beaches today.  Thousands, if not tens of thousands of people were in attendance to see who was described to me earlier as the biggest name in entertainment in the U.S. today.

What began as a foggy morning burned into clear skies by 8:30 am.  When I took my boys to school today, visibility was 100 feet at best, actually quite scary to drive in.  This afternoon at 1pm, when I arrived on the scene, the fog had returned, but was quickly dissipating.

In route to the show, traffic was backed up past Wal-Mart on Middle Beach Road.  Moving slowly, we rolled our way to South Thomas Drive, dodging spring breakers and their automobiles.  With music blaring and bass shaking my car, breakers waited anxiously for the car in front of them to advance, bringing them all closer to the single defining event that many of them had been looking forward to for weeks, even months.

After intense negotiations with peds and cars, I made my way into the parking area of the Royal American Welcome Center, just 1500 feet from the stage that Lil Wayne would perform from.  After a few friendly handshakes and hellos I made my way on foot to where the action was.  It was time to get uncomfortable and a little sun burnt.  I’ve got to do better about remembering my bald spot next time.

Had we thought about it, we may have chosen a different route to the VIP deck as we encountered a different type of traffic jam – of the variant liking to packed sweaty bodies of hostile spectators awaiting their acclaimed performer, refusing to move or make way for the “camera man.”

“Take my picture,” said one.  I hesitantly complied waiting for someone to snatch my pass and push his way through the crowd. I really was helpless, but I finally made my way up to the pavilion that served as a gateway to the Very Important Person area.  I was apparently a very important person today, well at least for a little while.

“He’s with me,” said a friend as my credentials were questioned.  Security was tight, and cops were everywhere.  I should have fit right in, it seemed like everyone on staff had tons of tattoos on their arms.  Maybe I don’t have enough.

Most of the time at events like this, I get free reign.  I can usually go where ever I want, but today was a little different.  I was limited because of the sheer size of the crowd.  I guess I could have journeyed deep into the depths of the ocean of people had I been brave enough, but I admit, I liked the security of the Press Box.  To say I was nervous and a little scared was an understatement; I don’t do too well in large crowds.

Everywhere I turned, spring breakers were drinking from bottles, cans, cups, beer bongs and just about anything else that would not leak.  Some were adorned in apparel made from alcohol paraphernalia, and others wore next to nothing at all.  There were girls on the shoulders of men and patterns shaved into the sides of heads.  Everyone, it seemed, had tattoos and one guy I saw even had a collection of very painful looking Branding marks.

I was able to travel freely up and down a boardwalk that led from the VIP deck and back stage up until about thirty minutes before the first performer came on.  “In about 10 minutes, you can’t go past this point,” said one MTV crew member.  “No worries, man,” I replied, “just tell me what I can and can’t do, I’m just taking pictures.”  I was told that the rules are only enforced by MTV but governed by the contracts they have with the performers.

The crowds were getting anxious and security and other staff were passing out waters and other non-alcoholic drinks to all those that asked in an effort to keep who they could hydrated.  I was told to help myself, so I did, to an ice-cold water in a tiny little bottle.

I was actually surprised security was able to keep everyone contained as well as they did.  Everywhere I looked, it appeared as if more spring breakers could spill over a barricade at any moment.  “You have to get off the rail,” said one member of the security staff, “if it falls, it may knock them all down in this row.”

As the crowd began to roar, I returned to the comfort and safety of the VIP deck.  “You can’t be up here,” said a security guy.  “What?”  I showed him my credentials.  “You have to leave, NOW.”  “What?!?, Why??”  “Don’t make me call security.”  “Ok, I’m leaving.”  There was a mix up and MTV was freaking out.  Turns out, the guy that was kicking me out was a friend of a friend, and he was following orders based on a huge miscommunication during a very roudy and chaotic time.  The crowd was loud and there were apparently too many chiefs.  All the media got kicked out, everyone with a camera.  “Tell you what,” he said, “I’ll hook you up.”  Minutes later, I was on the roof with the promo guys that helped put the whole show together, looking down on the crowd that I was so glad to leave behind.

I was told no less than three times that the roof was the best seat in the house.  I saw no chairs, and I was hot as the sun beat down on me and the black roof cooked me from the feet up.  What am I complaining about, it was only 75 outside – that’s nothing compared to what it could be.

From there I could see everything and would have done just about anything for a sweet telephoto lens, but oh well, perhaps someday when I have more money, or at least some money at all.

Lil Wayne was late, and the crowd was getting ancy.  People were screaming, waving their arms at the opening act as a small crowd congregated around the 26 year old’s tour bus.  From my vantage, I could see the security detail trying to figure out how to get Wayne in with as little exposure to the open crowds as possible.  They moved the bus as close to the door as possible.

With the roar of the crowd, Lil Wayne burst out of his tour bus door and quickly ran inside with his posse in tow and quickly made it to the stage to put on an energetic performance.  The mood of the crowd instantly changed when his appearance was made known.  Wayne took no delay from his bus exit to begin his performance, immediately dancing across the stage to the rhythmic beat of what was surely one of his hot singles.

I didn’t stay for the whole show, I’d had my fill.  The experience was enough to carry me home.  The energy was overflowing and the crowd was getting what they came for.  With thousands, or indeed tens of thousands in attendance this free concert could surely be categorized as a success in the heart and spirit of spring break.  The sand was down there, the beach was warm and the kids were having fun.  That’s what its all about, right?

For those of you that follow our Twitter updates, you were getting live action as it unfolded all day.  If you are not following us on Twitter, get your head out of the sand and join in on the social fun.  Sign up for Twitter today and follow us at Twitter.com/pcbdaily

My Night of Spring Break

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As the first night of spring break for many has rolled in, many are here enjoying our beaches.  I would think it safe to say that most are here to remain completely inebriated for the duration of their stay, but I have to remember that they pump tons of money into our area.  But it doesn’t mean that I have to like how they do it.

The streets weren’t as packed as I had expected, but perhaps everyone was in the “club.”  There were a good number of kids walking up and down the “strip”, yelling cat-calls at the ladies and profanities at the guys.  I was flicked off at least twice in my travels down the main thoroughfares for doing nothing other than driving by – lovely representation for the college crowd.  It would seem that a few bad apples sure can leave a nasty and lasting taste.

The night scene isn’t really my thing.

Starting tomorrow, the beach will be alive and crawling with college-age kids doing anything from playing beach tennis to doing whatever they have going on down at The Boardwalk Beach Resort.  This week, there will be over 1.8 million kids out on spring break, making it the second largest spring break of the season.  Next week there will be over 2.1 million out on spring break.

I’ll be out from time to time next week capturing all the activity, look forward to the updates.

Courtesy of Tripsmarter.com, below is a list of schools out on spring break this week (be warned, it’s like a million rows long):

March 9-13, 2009 (Mon-Fri)

College / University

Enrollment

Alabama A&M University

6,047

Albion College

1,970

Albright College

1,650

Alcorn State University

3,668

American University

9,749

Appalachian State University

15,117

Arizona State University

64,394

Army, West Point

4,000

Aurora University

6,000

Austin Peay State University

9,192

Baldwin-Wallace College

4,260

Ball State University

20,113

Baylor University

13,886

Belmont University

4,765

Bentley College

5,557

Bowling Green State University

22,882

Brock University, Canada

12,889

Bryn Mawr College

1,799

Bucknell University

3,555

Butler University

8,367

Campbell University

10,471

Carroll College

3,292

Claflin University

1,800

College of Mount St. Joseph

2,300

College of William and Mary

7,709

College of Wooster

1,827

Colorado State University-Pueblo

3,951

Columbus State University

7,593

Concordia University, Saint Paul

2,069

Connecticut College

1,910

Covenant College

1,007

Creighton University

6,992

Dalton State College

4,532

Daytona Beach Community College

32,088

Duke University

12,991

East Carolina University

25,990

East Tennessee State University

13,389

Eastern Kentucky University

15,839

Emerson College

3,800

Emory & Henry College

981

Ferris State University

13,000

Florida Memorial University

1,867

Florida State University

41,575

George Mason University

30,332

Georgetown University

14,148

Gonzaga University

6,503

Hampton University

5,117

Hastings College of the Law

1,300

Hendrix College

1,095

IUPU, Fort Wayne

4,927

Illinois State University

20,757

Indiana State University

10,568

James Madison University

17,918

Kennesaw State University

20,603

Lamar State College

2,000

Lamar State College at Port Arthur

3,000

Lewis and Clark Community College

20,252

Liberty University

14,438

Longwood University

4,479

Loyola Marymount University

8,972

Macon State College

6,464

Malone College

2,385

Marquette University

11,548

Miami University (OH)

20,126

Michigan State University

46,045

Minnesota State University

13,841

Monmouth College

1,360

Morehouse College

2,933

Northeastern University

20,605

Northern Illinois University

25,313

Northern VA Community College

60,000

Notre Dame de Namur University

1,600

Occidental College

1,839

Old Dominion University

21,625

Pellissippi State Technical Community College

7,001

Penn State University

83,721

Purdue University North Central

3,724

Queens University

13,500

Quinnipiac University

7,400

Radford University

9,552

Saint John’s University

20,346

Saint Joseph’s University

7,542

Sam Houston State University

16,416

Simmons College

4,700

Southern Illinois University Carbondale

20,983

Southern Illinois University Edwardsville

13,449

Southern Methodist University

10,901

St. Louis University

11,823

St. Mary’s College

1,871

Stephen F. Austin State University

10,822

Syracuse University

19,082

Temple University

34,218

Tennessee State University

8,748

Thomas More College

1,416

Texas State University

28,132

Université de Montréal

55,791

University Laval

28,902

University of Central Florida

48,497

University of Detroit Mercy

5,600

University of Florida

49,693

University of Georgia

33,831

University of Memphis

20,000

University of North Carolina

28,136

University of North Carolina at Wilmington

11,840

University of Notre Dame

11,603

University of Pittsburgh

27,020

University of South Carolina

27,390

University of South Dakota

11,582

University of Southern Indiana

10,040

University of Tampa

5,600

University of Tennessee at Martin

6,504

University of Toledo

19,706

University of West Florida

10,358

Utah State University

17,027

Valencia Community College

51,551

Virginia Tech

29,898

Weber State University

18,300

Western Kentucky University

19,215

Wilmington College

11,500

Yale University

11,398

Youngstown State University

11,803

TOTAL

1,834,258

Spring Break IS Upon Us

_mg_6742Every year, at the beginning of spring break, I’m always glad to see the life pumped back into Panama City Beach.  The Beach Wal-Mart is packed with young energy, the streets are pumping with life and local businesses are happy the winter months are over and they can start living again.  Of course, I’m always glad to see them go at the end as well.

“As little as four weeks ago, we were a little worried,” said Russ Smith, Vice President of Resort Operations.  He went on to say that over the last couple of weeks, things have picked up and it looks like at this time, occupation is right on par with last year over the entire spring break, but the times in which visitors are coming in have shifted.  “I don’t know if it was the recent warnings about going to Mexico that’s given us the boost or just late planning on the part of the college kids.”

“Everyone seems to be cautiously optimistic this year,” says Dana Lent, Communications Manager for the Panama City Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau.  “The proof is in the pudding, we’ll see how the numbers really pan out when we see the bed tax collections.”

What is mostly empty now, Sharky’s Beachfront Restaurant will be filled with spring breakers tomorrow night and in just 8 days time the local beach club will be jam packed.

For the first year ever, Sharky’s will play host to beach tennis and beach volleyball that will ultimately culminate in a professional tournament with professional volleyball players such as 2008 Olympic gold medalists Phil Dalhausser and Todd Rogers.  Beach tennis will start off on Sunday March 1st and players can battle it out until March 18th.

This next upcoming week is really the first “big” week of spring break, with this past week having students from Michigan and Canada here in small numbers.  Next week just under a half million students will be on spring break across the country and the week after around 1.8 million will be on spring break around the country.  Note to other media that has gotten these numbers confused in the past – I said “around the country”, not necessarily coming here.

This year should be a fun year.  There is a lot of emphasis on family spring break (another article coming on that!) and there are quite a few family activities coming up.

Check below for a complete list of colleges on spring break this week, courtesy of TripSmarter.com:

March 2-6, 2009 (Mon-Fri)

College / University

Enrollment

Alverno College

2,654

Barry University

9,324

Beloit College

1,300

Bennett College

572

Bethune-Cookman College

2,895

Bishop’s University

1,817

Boston College

13,723

California University of Pennsylvania

7,728

Cambrian College

4,401

Clark University

2,883

College of Charleston

11,320

Duquesne University

10,184

Fairfield University

4,935

Florida A&M University

12,792

Florida Atlantic University

26,245

Georgia State University

27,134

Grand Valley State University

25,000

Greensboro College

1,233

Lebanon Valley College

1,906

Lehigh University

6,836

Loyola College, Maryland

6,131

Loyola University, Chicago

15,545

Mary Baldwin College

2,242

Moore College of Art and Design

493

North Carolina A&T

11,103

North Carolina State University

31,130

Pepperdine University

6,053

Rice University

4,195

Rocky Mountain College

898

Saint Cloud State University

17,173

Saint Francis University

2,121

Schoolcraft College

10,213

Silver Lake College

1,000

Stetson University

2,273

Universite du Quebec (Montreal)

40,624

University of Evansville

2,350

University of Virginia

20,190

Valparaiso University

3,874

Villanova University

9,335

Virginia Western Community College

9,000

Western Carolina University

11,000

Western Michigan University

24,433

Wingate University

2,041

Xavier University

6,500

TOTAL

412,581